Tornadoes plague south

BY STEVE GUST | HOUMA, LA | March 17, 2000

HOUMA, LA (March 17, 2000) -- One day after a tornado stunned Houma, LA,

two twisters touched down in the Austin, TX area Thursday afternoon,

damaging roofs and breaking windows in about 12 homes.

No injuries were reported in the Texas tornado, but the Louisiana

twister Wednesday afternoon injured 35 people. After touching down east

of Houma with little warning, it left a three-mile-long line of downed

power lines and at least 192 damaged homes.

Within a few hours after the tornado, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster signed

a proclamation declaring a state of emergency for the area.

The Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness (LOEP) has submitted

preliminary damage estimates to the Small Business Administration, which

will then determine if damages warrant federal disaster relief.

The tornado slammed Louisiana with little warning and was on the ground

for six minutes.

"I have one of the warning radios and it never went off," said Velma

Watson, assistant director of the Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance

Coalition (TRAC). TRAC, established in the aftermath of 1992's Hurricane

Andrew to assist with storm preparedness and response, includes

faith-based and nonprofit groups.

"The storm cells weren't expected to dip down, but they did. The tornado

followed pretty much on line with Highway 90," Watson added.

TRAC is assessing damage and trying to determine how many people were

inadequately insured. An unmet needs committee plans to meet Monday.

Church World Service is providing seed money to TRAC for its long-term

recovery work.

The American Red Cross set up shelters for those displaced by the storm,

and the Salvation Army also assisted with emergency needs.

Earlier on Wednesday, inclement weather was blamed for the death of

two Louisiana fishermen who were thrown by a water spout from their

boat into the Gulf of Mexico.

Severe weather was also reported on Wednesday in neighboring Oklahoma.

The Grant County sheriff's office reported seeing a tornado near

Wakita, in northern Oklahoma -- the same area where the motion picture

"Twister" was filmed. But that tornado did no damage. Hail and heavy

rains were reported in western Oklahoma, just as northwestern Oklahoma

prepared for snow in a late-winter storm.

Updated March 17, 2000

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